Really? At least thus far, it looks more like a typical government bureaucracy, full of non-accountability and focus on covering rears rather than customer service. Of course, that’s what it looks like from the outside. The Daily Beast’s Jacob Siegel talks to one Texas whistleblower who says the view from the inside is much, much worse:
Emails and VA memos obtained exclusively by The Daily Beast provide what is among the most comprehensive accounts yet of how high-level VA hospital employees conspired to game the system. It shows not only how they manipulated hospital wait lists but why—to cover up the weeks and months veterans spent waiting for needed medical care. If those lag times had been revealed, it would have threatened the executives’ bonus pay.
What’s worse, the documents show the wrongdoing going unpunished for years, even after it was repeatedly reported to local and national VA authorities. That indicates a new troubling angle to the VA scandal: that the much touted investigations may be incapable of finding violations that are hiding in plain sight.
“For lack of a better term, you’ve got an organized crime syndicate,” a whistleblower who works in the Texas VA told The Daily Beast. “People up on top are suddenly afraid they may actually be prosecuted and they’re pressuring the little guys down below to cover it all up.”
“I see it in the executives’ eyes,” the whistleblower added. “They are worried.”
They should be, especially if they’re still pressuring employees to cover their tracks through deceit and fraud. Now that the scandal is out in the open, those who are getting that kind of pressure should be thinking about keeping records of all these requests. Eventually, investigators will reconstruct the paper trails that lead back to their own offices, and they will need to direct the attention of these investigators to those who wanted the cover-up in the first place.
This also demonstrates why it’s sheer folly to have an executive team investigate itself. Eric Shinseki had five-plus years to discover this issue, and either he was too incompetent to do so, he willfully ignored it, or worse. This period of self-investigation essentially gives everyone a few extra months to cover their tracks, and at least according to Siegel’s source, VA executives are making the most of the time. It also sends the message down to the rank and file that Barack Obama cares more about preserving the command structure at VA than he does about solving the problem — and that provides another set of perverse incentives for corruption.
The whistleblower has already learned the first lesson, and given Siegel a taste of what investigators should expect to find:
The case of Dr. Joseph Spann, a recently retired doctor who reported malfeasance in the Texas VA system, where he worked for 17 years, raises the possibility that official investigations may only be hiding the problems they were charged to root out.
After retiring in January of this year Spann sent a letter to VA investigatorsaccusing a VA employee of manipulating patient wait lists to hide treatment delays for veterans. The rigged reporting scheme Spann described in his letter, which threatens veterans’ lives by delaying their treatment, is the same method that has been exposed in Phoenix, Cheyenne, Albuquerque, and scores of other VA hospitals across the country.
According to Spann, Dr. Gordon Vincent, chief of radiology at Olin E. Teague Veterans Medical Center in Temple, Texas, didn’t just break VA policy by manipulating veterans’ appointments himself. He ordered VA employees across the state to engage in the same fraudulent practice.
The VA shrugged off this allegation, but Siegel has a document that seems to clearly substantiate Spann’s allegations against Vincent. And the same internal reviewers that ignored this the first time around are being asked to conduct another investigation of the same problem. Want to bet how that will turn out?
Let’s not forget that the VA isn’t the only single-payer bureaucracy for those in the military. Active-duty personnel get care through military providers in the Department of Defense. Secretary Chuck Hagel has decided to get ahead of the curve and check to see whether the same problem exists in his own organization:
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Tuesday ordered a 90-day comprehensive review of the military health system in the wake of allegations that Veterans Affairs hospitals falsified data about how quickly veterans were being treated.
The Pentagon said Dr. Jonathan Woodson, the assistant defense secretary for health affairs, would lead the review, focusing on access to health care and quality of that care. A statement said the review would cover military treatment facilities and care contracted from civilian providers.
The statement noted that the military system, which is separate from the VA system, serves nearly 10 million beneficiaries, including active duty service members, retirees and family members. The VA system says it serves more than 8.3 million veterans each year.
It’s a smart move, but it suffers from the same flaw as the VA internal probe — self-investigation.
Meanwhile, we can add Seattle to the list of areas where suspicions of wait-list fraud have arisen:
Addendum: Andrew Malcolm wonders, “What’s not to trust in an Obama team probe of the Obama team?”